This is an online-only exhibition due to COVID-19.
Are we drowning?
When I was in my early twenties I almost drowned while swimming across a lake, but fortunately, I was buoyed up and saved by some fellow swimmers. However, in those few moments, as I was going down, I felt for the first time the imminence of death. As a result, I developed an artistic obsession with water and photographs in or about water and the forces of water became a central theme in several seemingly unrelated bodies of my work.
As my subjects hover uncomfortably at the water-line, the viewer of my portraits and self-portraits may have existential questions about personal identity and how we know who we are by the signifiers of our facial features which become malleable in the fluid medium of water. The cognitive dissonance of the beautiful colors and disturbing sometimes grotesque distortions of the faces adds to the feeling of disquieting tension and uncertainty.
On a global scale, we now face the uncertainty brought on by the rising and surging seas of the climate crisis. The coasts are indeed drowning in the super slow motion of time punctuated by horrific storms, flooding, and hurricanes. As detailed in my book, America’s Endangered Coasts: Photographs from Texas to Maine, our vastly overdeveloped Gulf, and eastern seaboard coastlines are disappearing and taking with them the communities that have been built in what now turns out to be the wrong places. According to renowned climate scientist and activist, James Hansen, who contributed an essay to my book based on the extensive research done by him and a team of seventeen scientists, our oceans may rise by a catastrophic amount of at least two meters by 2100 if our global mean temperature reaches two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. However, we are currently on track to greatly exceed this reasonable target set at the Paris Climate Accord raising the likelihood that vast areas of the coast and large parts of entire cities such as New Orleans, Miami, Charleston, Norfolk, and even New York City will experience disastrous flooding.
Closer to home in Michigan we are seeing the damage that can be caused by even a relatively small amount of rising water levels on the Great Lakes, which while it will never reach the extremes of sea-level rise, has already caused much shoreline erosion and damage showing the inexorable power of water.
So even as I love water and the beautiful distortions I see through its surface, and even as we love living near the water and enjoy splashing in its cooling waves we must recognize the darker destructive forces of water and the terrible power that it can and will unleash on us.